Across the nation, there is a shortage of referees and officials for youth sports.
One of the main reasons behind it is the lack of sportsmanship, not by student athletes, but from adult spectators and coaches.
It's a story that rings true in Michigan.
The number of officials has dropped by nearly 20 percent over the last decade from a peak of about 12,000 refs in the late 2000s to about 10,000 refs today.
“We've really got some challenges in the area of sportsmanship where our data tells us, especially the way that adults act. Coaches and adult spectators - it's really driving out some of our younger and newer officials where they work the game and they just don't want to put up with that,” said Mark Uyl, executive director elect for MHSAA.
Uyl has served as an official for more than 20 years and believes there’s a cultural issue behind the lack of sportsmanship.
“I think one of the challenges it just seems like people today and society in general are angrier. It just seems like some of the edge to some of that criticism that officials have to listen to just gets worse and worse,” Uyl said.
John Montney has been officiating local sporting events for the last 30 years.
The Mt. Morris native said he still enjoys working games, but admits it's a tough occupation - especially because of today's technology.
“When I started there was no YouTube or Instagram or Facebook. Now everything is criticized right down to the last second on anything that you do and that's the hardest part is knowing there's a video camera somewhere and you don't want to end up on YouTube,” Montney said.
Montney said over the years he's rarely had to eject spectators from games for bad behavior, but he believes fans at high school games in particular are becoming obscener.
“The $5 entry fee doesn't give them a right to yell at us. As my mother used to say when she used to come watch the games, ‘He's somebody's son, father, husband out there officiating, giving up his time,’” Montney said.
Just last week, the referee shortage had an immediate effect at Goodrich High School where Athletic Director Dave Davis had to cancel a lacrosse game due to lack of officials. Davis said the lack of refs means they are sometimes being spread too thin across the sports schedule.
“We've got crews doubling up or working two or three games per night; work a freshman game in one spot and then go somewhere else. That's taxing on the body and also on the mental state, too,” Davis said.
Davis said he's read the MHSAA data behind the referee shortage and said schools have to take on a bigger role to stop officials from being abused on playing fields.
“As educators, as coaches, as adults, as administrators, we're not doing the right thing sometimes to promote the positive aspects of sportsmanship and just positive adult relationships or how you should act,” Davis said.
Carter Lauinger is a freshman at Goodrich who participates in four sports. He said he's noticed poor fan behavior at sporting events and feels bad for the abuse officials sometimes receive.
“They take a lot of the blame, which they're out there taking their time helping improve the sport and keeping people safe,” Lauinger said.
Lauinger had something to say to adults who show bad sportsmanship toward referees.
“What if they were out there and you were getting screamed at? How would you feel if that was you,” he said.
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